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Question

293. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice the average length of time that persons are waiting for free legal aid in each county; the longest waiting time for free legal aid in each county; the number of persons who are on the waiting list for same in each county; the number who are working in each free legal aid centre in each county; the number who have worked in such centres in each of the past five years; and when the last salary threshold was changed for free legal aid. [38338/21]

Answer

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): The Legal Aid Board is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions under Section 3(3) of the Legal Aid Act 1995.
In accordance with circular 25/2016, agencies under the aegis of Government Departments have a dedicated email address for the provision of information to members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Legal Aid Board's dedicated address is oireachtas_enq@legalaidboard.ie.
The waiting times in each law centre are published on the Legal Aid Board’s website at www.legalaidboard.ie/en/our-services/legal-aid-services/waiting-times/
As the Deputy may be aware, Justice Plan 2021 contains a commitment to commence a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme this year. In this regard, my Department is currently in the process of scoping the review and it is expected that it will commence in the third quarter of the year. One of the areas which may be considered in the context of the proposed review is eligibility for civil legal aid.
Since the enactment of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the making of the Civil Legal Regulations 1996, the Regulations relating to financial eligibility have been substantially revised on three occasions. Applicants for Legal Aid must satisfy both financial eligibility criteria and a test of the merits of their case before they can qualify for legal advice and representation in accordance with the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the associated Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2017. In general persons must make a contribution also in line with their financial means, that is, the legal aid is not entirely free.
As the Deputy may also be aware, in May, I announced that the Legal Aid Board will no longer include the Housing Assistance Payment in their calculation of entitlement to civil legal aid. This will have a positive impact for those who are of modest means and are in receipt of HAP or any other housing support measure provided by a Government Department or any other public body.
In recognition of the competing demands being made on the legal aid scheme, under Budget 2021, Minister McEntee secured an increased provision of over €2 million for the Legal Aid Board bringing its total funding to €44.6 million for this year representing a 6% increase.